race reports

NHRA Pros at Phoenix


Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

Brittany Force was back after her wreck at the Winternationals. Sunday was to be an unforgettable day for the JFR team.



It wasn’t a bad day for the winners, but plenty of other racers could say it was, as crew chiefs struggled to find the right setup to not overpower the track as the weather changed during the weekend. The second event of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series concluded Sunday, Feb. 25, as Courtney Force took home the Funny Car victory at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were also winners at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.



Steve Torrence (near lane) ran his father, Billy, in the semifinal.


Steve Torrence sped to a career best time of 3.655 seconds in qualifying, beat his dad by the narrowest of margins in an all-Capco Contractors Top Fuel semifinal, and then outran close friend Scott Palmer to win the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals.


In the match with his dad, Steve’s dragster got to the finish line in 3.722 seconds at 328.86 mph to his dad Billy’s 3.726 at 328.54.


“We’ve been able to do a lot of cool stuff,” the younger Torrence said of his relationship with his dad, “but that one right there is going to rank at the top of all my career – racing my old man like that.  The only way it would have been better would be to do it in the final round.”

Doug Kalitta was out in the first round.


Billy Torrence, who hasn’t competed in Top Fuel for more than two years, and Doug Kalitta had one of the more ‘entertaining’ rounds as both had to pedal down the track, Torrence doing so in 6.570 seconds at 138.34 mph while Kalitta ran 6.714/154.46.



Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force piloted her Monster Energy dragster to a second-round finish just two weeks after a scary crash at the season-opening Winternationals. Force put up a 4.661 run at 156.12 and was out done by Billy Torrence’s 3.723 pass at 320.74.


“Overall, looking at our weekend, I’m happy with it. I’m not disappointed in anything,” Force explained. Coming back from a wreck like we did in Pomona, that first run, climbing back in that car, it’s not easy. It’s definitely tough. And especially, also doing it again in that first round. It takes you back. I think it’s a work in progress. It’s going to take some time.


“I’m happy with our Monster Energy team. We pulled out our old car, didn’t have time to test it, just took it down there and made some pretty good passes. I pulled my foot out of it on that first run. It moved around a little bit and I clicked it a little bit early. But I’d rather play it safe than end up like we did last weekend.”

Tony Schumacher became the fastest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history with a 336.57-MPH run during qualifying, but the No. 1 qualifier was eliminated in round one on Sunday by No. 16 Greg Carillo.

The quarterfinals found Antron Brown lining up next to rookie racer Greg Carrillo. Brown had watched Carrillo take out teammate Tony Schumacher earlier in the day, and unfortunately for the three-time Phoenix champion, Brown would suffer the same fate. Brown hit the throttle and once again was up in smoke before the Matco Tools dragster crossed the tree.

Carrillo drove to the round win and into the semifinals, where he was defeated by Scott Palmer.



Courtney Force powered her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car victory ending her 43-race winless streak. Force over powered Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round with a 3.834-second pass at 337.16 mph. Her speed bettered the track record she set during qualifying. Johnson Jr. smoked the tires to the 6.814 at 101.57.


“Every single one of my guys on the Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro has been working so hard. Today was a tough day,” said Force who last won on May 1, 2016 at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. “We had a 40-minute turnaround in the semifinals and didn’t have lane choice in the finals but we were able to go down there and lay down a killer number.


“Thanks to my guys. They helped give me the confidence to get in that car today. They make me feel safe in that car because of the amazing job they do on it,” explained Force who now has nine career victories. “Brian Corradi and Dan Hood, they’ve been unbelievable, getting us the No. 1 qualifier hat and then to top it off get the Wally at the end of the weekend. Pretty incredible. Definitely a great start to our season. Been looking for a win for a long time now. Feels like forever. This one definitely feels good and I know it will make my dad feel better.”


The victory puts Force second in the points standings behind only Matt Hagan who she defeated in the second round, just moments after seeing her father’s wreck.


“Hagan actually came up to me when I had to race him and told me you’re a great driver you know how to do this, just clear your head,” Force said. “I know he didn’t want me to beat him but it was really nice of him as a competitor to tell me you know what to do out here and just remember that. It’s great to have competitors out here that are so amazing and so supportive even when you have to race them.”

In an accident eerily reminiscent of his 2007 crash in Dallas, Texas, John Force won his second-round race before an engine explosion sent his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Camaro careening into the Toyota of Jonnie Lindberg.


The two cars, linked together by tangled parachutes, hit one wall, then the other before coming to a stop in a cloud of smoke. As a precaution, the 68-year-old veteran was transported for further evaluation and released Sunday evening from Chandler Regional Hospital.


Lindberg was not injured, but Jim Head’s racecar was destroyed. It was a severe blow to the independent team.


Two-time and reigning Funny Car would champion Robert Hight fell in the first round to Tommy Johnson Jr. after the pair both pedaled to the finish line. Hight’s 4.806 pass at 273.44 was bettered by Johnson Jr.’s 4.715 at 225.60.

Richard Townsend made his Funny Car race day debut in round one.

Beckman was first to stand on the gas, but suffered an explosion early into the run. The parachutes deployed and the Dodge Charger came to a stop on the track. Townsend drove to the finish line and claimed the round win.


Johnson beat Shawn Langdon, Richard Townsend and Hight before earning the runner-up honors for Funny Car. He was faster than No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force at the start during the final-round run before she got the upper hand at the line. Johnson’s runner-up finish came after his Don Schumacher Racing crew worked hard to get his car ready following a fiery explosion under the hood during Saturday qualifying. Johnson jumped from tenth to fifth in the Funny Car point standings with his performance.

In only his second Funny Car competition, Shawn Langdon (far lane) got past Cruz Pedregon and Ron Capps (near lane) to meet Tommy Johnson in the semi. Johnson’s 3.916/328.46 put the end to Langdon’s day (3.958/325.77).



Chris McGaha drove to the winner’s circle with a 6.529 at 211.59 run in his Harlow Sammons Chevrolet Camaro to defeat Jason Line in the final round. He secured his sixth career victory and first since winning the Four-Wide Nationals last season in Charlotte.


“We picked up some power this off-season that we’ve been looking for but when we went No. 1 in the first round of qualifying we knew we had something that could compete,” McGaha said. “It’s really satisfying to do this as a one car team, and it’s really special to get our first win of the year.”


McGaha was the No. 7 qualifier and he was victorious against Tanner Gray, Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin as he earned his first victory of the season.

Erica Enders defeated Steve Graham in the first round, but met McGaha and that was it for the day. (We love those eyelashes on the car.)

Reaching two consecutive final rounds at the first two races of NHRA's 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is a pretty solid accomplishment in a class that is getting tougher and tighter each race, but for Jason Line, it just isn't enough. This weekend, Line wanted nothing more than to put Team Summit in the winner's circle in celebration of Summit Racing Equipment's 50th anniversary.


"We didn't come out of here with what we wanted, but we still had a decent weekend," said Line, who lost a close one to Chris McGaha in his fifth Phoenix final round and 96th final of his career. "We certainly learned some things, and going forward, that's going to help us. We'll be better in Gainesville, no question. I've said it before, but the next win will be my 50th, and this is Summit Racing's 50th anniversary year. That will be really special, and I'm super motivated to make that happen. I've let two slip away already, but it's a tough game. It's not easy, but that's what makes it special when you do win. When I finally get it, it's going to feel good."


Line moved into the Pro Stock points lead heading into the Gatornationals.

Bo Butner’s day didn’t go well as he lost in the first round to Jeg Coughlin’s holeshot.

Coughlin then lost Alex Laughlin in the second round. Laughlin turned in a 6.577/209.92 while Coughlin went 6.590/209.69. Laughlin then lost to McGaha.




The Top Fuel Harley class fields eight motorcycles and there were nine at Phoenix, leaving only Canadian Lyle Newton on the outside.

Tii Tharpe qualified No. 3 (6.280/221.38)


In the final round Jay Turner’s bike didn’t get off the starting line and Tii Tharpe’s Harley went on to run 6.337 at 217.39 mph.

Randal Andras qualified No. 4. He got past Rickey House in the first round but met Turner and was done.

Jay Turner qualified No. 1 with a 6.269 at 216.24 mph and set Low ET at 6.205 seconds in his semifinal against Andras.

Doug Vancil, who came out of retirement this year and won the season opener at the Winternationals, was not able to duplicate the win this week. He qualified No.2 with a 6.277/224.06 and set Top Speed at 224.58 mph.



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